Sunday, September 21, 2008

Bleeding orange

Hoping to find a clue into the NFL struggles of Vince Young, Ricky Williams, Cedric Benson and others who wore the burnt orange, ESPN's Jeffri Chadiha suggests that many Texas exes just can't get over their glory days in Austin:

There has to be some common link here so I'm going to pose one today: Being a former star at Texas means having a much harder transition into life as a pro football player. This isn't a shot in the dark, either. I've had more than one NFL executive tell me that players who spend their college days in Austin get quite accustomed to being treated like gods. And once those same players leave college and enter the NFL, they quickly discover that success is much harder to find when the world isn't colored in shades of burnt orange.

There's some truth to this theory, I think. A bit of truth.

I once played briefly in college with a guy who transferred to TCU from UT. A very personable guy, he would go on and on about the perks of being a star football player in Austin. Things that hardly any of us were experiencing in Fort Worth - save maybe LaDainian Tomlinson. I have no doubt that he missed being a Longhorn very much - and rightfully so. He was describing about a virtual heaven for a 19- or 20-year-old male college student.

For a second, look at the picture above, taken right after Young and the Longhorns defeated USC to win the national title. Can you imagine what that might possibly feel like? Wouldn't almost everything else in Young's career seem anticlimatic? (as an aside, Terry Bradshaw has talked a lot about the depression he dealt with during his playing days in the 1970s).

But what is it like? Here's what former UT star and current Detroit Lion Cory Redding had to say:
"It's a football paradise. The school is great. The campus is great. The women are great. The city of Austin is great. And if you keep your nose clean and you play ball in Texas, it's like having a key to the city. If you get the job done on the field, you can have whatever you want."

From what I've heard and seen myself, this all rings true: I spent probably a third of my college weekends in Austin myself.

But, in the end, I think this is a tantalizing bit of revisionist history: plenty of college stars in storied programs have the same experience - you think guys like Tim Tebow and Darren McFadden feel like they missed out on anything? - and it seems like Chadiha and others conveniently forgot all the grief Mack Brown and the Longhorns endured in the years before the 2005 Rose Bowl.

Remember the moniker "Coach February"? Chris Simms' nightmarish 2001 Big 12 title game performance and the subsequent fallout? Almost everything having to do with Bob Stoops and Oklahoma's virtual stranglehold on the Red River rivalry?

I chalk up the pro struggles of Vince, Cedric and Ricky to the ordinary trials of sensitive guys who - like lots of former college stars - simply are taken aback at the businesslike atmosphere in the NFL. Some people flourish in rah-rah pageantry of college; others are better suited for the no-nonsense environs of the League. In many ways, the challenge of players making that adjustment contributes a lot to the crapshoot aspect of the draft.

To be sure, Chadiha isn't completely off-base here. But, in the end, I place the onus on the players; not the program.

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